Less than a tenth of people in Northern Ireland who suffer a heart attack outside hospital survive long enough to be discharged, it was revealed.
Every year around 1,300 cardiac arrests happen outside medical institutions, the Department of Health said.
More people need to be trained to offer emergency skills which are critical to keeping patients alive until professional help arrives, Health Minister Edwin Poots added.
“By extending Emergency Life Support (ELS) training and keeping people alive to allow them to avail of appropriate treatment in hospital, we can maximise the chances of survival or improved recovery from heart attack,” the minister said.
“I recognise we have some considerable way to go, however I believe we need to extend ELS training in order to save more lives.”
The DUP MLA said each year approximately 1,300 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital and warned fewer than 10% of those patients will survive to be discharged from hospital.
Heart disease is the second main cause of death for people in Northern Ireland.
Most people can survive cardiac arrest when a sequence of events including CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and defibrillation happens as rapidly as possible, according to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).
Voluntary first response schemes have already been established, with typical locations including isolated rural communities where it is challenging for the ambulance to arrive within the critical eight minutes.
Immediate CPR in some cases can improve the chances of survival by up to a factor of three.
For every minute that passes in cardiac arrest before defibrillation, chances of survival are reduced by about 10%, the Health Department said.
In a written statement, the minister updated the Assembly on his plans to maximise the number of people trained in emergency life support through developing a Community Resuscitation Strategy for Northern Ireland.
“ELS skills are the key set of actions needed to keep someone alive until professional help arrives,” he added.
These include performing CPR, dealing with choking and serious bleeding or putting someone in the recovery position.
The minister said: “The evidence indicates that in places where there is a high proportion of the population trained in ELS skills the survival rate for those who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is higher than in areas where the proportion of the population trained in ELS skills is low.
“I believe a Northern Ireland community resuscitation strategy will help to focus a drive to increase the number of people, of all ages, trained in ELS skills and to co-ordinate the use of available resources to achieve this.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride is to establish a working group to develop a strategy for Northern Ireland to maximise the number of individuals trained.
The group will be chaired by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and will include representatives from the Health Department, health and social care bodies, community and voluntary bodies involved in resuscitation training and other Northern Ireland departments. Members will be asked to have the strategy ready for consultation by October this year.